Lunchtime Tourist

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April 26, 2004 // UPDATED 1:23 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Linda Koutsky
Linda Koutsky

Great River Road, Downtown side of the Mississippi between Plymouth Avenue and I-35W

It meanders its way from Itasca State Park all the way down to New Orleans. No, not the Mississippi River -- it's the Great River Road. And we have one of the best sections right here Downtown. In fact, it's the first National Scenic Byway to be designated in an urban area.

The 2,069-mile Great River Road was developed in the 1930s as an historic highway. Federal, state and local roads make up the 10-state route that crisscrosses the river through farmlands, prairies, bluffs and sleepy river towns.

Downtown's section has biking and walking paths and closely parallels "old muddy." Public art, light industry, hydroelectric power, abandoned grain elevators and million-dollar condominiums share the road with tourists.

This urban stretch features three historic bridges: the 1901 Chicago & Great Western Railroad bridge across Nicollet Island, the 1918 3rd Avenue Bridge and James J. Hill's 1883 Stone Arch Bridge.

When Mill Ruins Park opened where Portland Avenue meets the Mississippi in 2001, Great River Road was no longer simply tar and concrete. Genuine wood planks now cover what used to be the tailrace canal that carried water from mill turbines back to the river.

Downtown's River Road was first proposed in 1883 by H.W.S. Cleveland, a pioneer of landscape design and 19th-century city planning. Fortunately, Cleveland understood the Mighty Mississippi's value and convinced city planners to start buying land along the riverbanks. In what reads like an ancient travel brochure, Cleveland wrote: "The vast regions yet lying undisturbed between the Mississippi and the Pacific comprise such resources of wealth and variety of sublime and picturesque features of natural scenery as can be seen on no other portion of the earth's surface."

Wouldn't you like to do something sublime over lunch today?

LUNCH TIP: Enjoy the grand vista and a tuna burger at Nicollet Island Inn, 95 Merriam St.

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